About Turkish Meze – It’s more than just a Starter

Meze: a savoury food eaten while drinking (esp. alcohol), appetiser, hors d’oeuvre. (1)

Meze is an integral part of the Turkish dining experience, it’s our favourite part of the Turkish dining experience, and it’s also difficult to describe. There’s no equivalent in British cuisine and therefore no literal translation in the English language. As a result, on English menus throughout Turkey, the wonders that are meze dishes are grouped under the simple titles; ‘Cold Starters’ and ‘Hot Starters.’

The English language does the Turkish meze an injustice in relegating meze dishes to such a title because the meze is so much more than that.

Turkish Meze at Cin Bal in Kayaköy

Our choice of Turkish meze at Cin Bal in Kayaköy

In Turkey, eating meze is a social activity; it’s chatting with friends around the table for hours on end, helping yourself to the occasional spoonful of antep ezmesi, aubergine salad or spicy pickled beetroot, tearing off chunks of fresh Turkish bread and dipping it into the pickled or olive oil dressings. It’s drinking rakı together, sharing hot, as well as cold, meze to complement the aniseed flavours of the rakı. It’s going out to listen to live saz music, nibbling, dipping, savouring. It’s an experience.

Turkish Meze in Dalyan

Our choice of Turkish meze in Dalyan

We find it impossible to go to a Turkish restaurant without gazing at the variety of meze dishes in the long glass fridges. If a restaurant has food on show, don’t bother with the menu. Go to the fridges. Sometimes, we’re tempted by too many choices and we skip the main meal altogether (just like we did at this restaurant in Dalyan), preferring instead to have a feast of meze plates laid on our table. It’s too easy to just keep pointing, ‘We’ll have some of that, some of that, oh and some of that…oh go on then, some of that, too. What’s this one? Lovely! A bit of that too, then. Right, how many have we got? Shall we get one more?’

The top photo is our choice of meze dishes for various Cin Bal barbecues in Kayaköy. From the top, going clockwise, you can see spicy pickled beetroot, haydari (minted garlic Turkish yoghurt, great with lamb), aubergine salad, super-spicy pickled aubergine (we love this but it’s not to everyone’s taste) and of course, the old favourite of Antep Ezmesi. Somehow, over the evening, we get through the meze, two baskets of bread, lamb tandır and a barbecue of köfte and lamb pirzola (cutlets). We’re always very grateful for Cin Bal’s Ottoman seating where we could recline and digest!

In the bottom photo, you can see geren (samphire in spicy, garlic yoghurt and a meze we’d never seen before – we’ve since, however, done our own geren recipe), yes the middle meze dish is Antep Ezmesi. No table is complete without it for us. The final photo is baby sardines in a garlic, lemon and olive oil preserve. These were our choices when we spent a day in Dalyan one time, while taking friends back to the airport. We had to be disciplined and limit our choices as we were having a main meal, too! More about this is another post, but we were at Yakamoz Restaurant along the river in Dalyan and it was a fantastic Turkish meal, aided by the joy of meze.

If you fancy trying to make some Turkish Meze dishes yourself, then this book on Amazon should give you some good ideas…

(1) Translation taken from Redhouse Yeni Elsözlüğü: İngilizce – Türkçe / Türkçe – İngilizce Dictionary

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Comments

  1. Ah, lovely. I love meze! In fact, we are off to the grocer this afternoon to buy the produce necessary to make our own assorted mezes for the week! I love to make 4-5 different kinds on a weekend, then spoon out whatever I want over the next few days. 🙂

  2. Gosh it looks so delicious – and very like an Italian antipasti.
    Mette

  3. @ Barbara: That’s the kind of thing we do; especially in summer. Nice to graze over a few cold dishes rather than sit down to a huge, hot meal.

    @ Italian Notes: It is delicious. 🙂 So many cuisines have foods like this – just not British cuisine. 🙁

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more that this is the best part of the meal!

  5. Oh I love their “mezes”……whenever I go to Turkey I just make a meal from the mezes and skip the main dinner.
    I do like to make them for the weekend, especially when we have company over…..my favourite is Antep Ezmi. I can devour the whole thing myself. have a great Sunday!!! :-)))

  6. Love this type of dining…sharing, eating, talking and drinking!

  7. @ Belinda: It is, isn’t it?! 🙂

    @ Erica: Just like we do, sometimes and yes, we always have to have some Antep Ezmesi on the table. The spicier, the better. Hope you have a great Sunday, too. 🙂

    @ Peter: Just perfect isn’t it?!

  8. We have a local Turkish restaurant on Lavender Hill in London and they do some of the most delicious vegetable meze I have had anywhere , especially the patlican salata . Just made a broad bean, grilled artichoke and dill meze dish for our dinner tonight.

  9. @ Karen: Whenever we go back to the UK, we always hunt out a local Turkish restaurant. Glad yours does a good meze! 🙂 We’ve just missed the artichoke season here but I really want to experiment more with them. Your meze sounds lovely. Afiyet olsun ve ellerine sağlık. 🙂

  10. I understand mezze very well; in Lebanon, it is common to see people after sharing a mezze for hours play some music (loud) and dance; of course, there is always the hum of the hookah in the background!

  11. Ooh, we live near Lavender hill. Where is it? would LOVE to try

  12. @ Taste of Beirut: We love the odd hookah, too. Would love to visit Lebanon.

    @ Suzi: Hope Karen sees your comment. We don’t know London at all! 🙂

  13. Yum, I love meze!!! It’s so much fun to have friends over for a meze dinner. Oh, if only I could be in Fethiye now to enjoy meze!

  14. This is my favourite wat to dine and have many small plates shared among frineds.

  15. Julia, do you think this is a little similar to Spain’s tapas? Back in the Philippines we call this pica-pica (pick pick) =) The idea is similar to pick on the food while schmoozing with your family or friends. But I think what is unique about the meze is that you have a glass fridge where you are free to choose what you want. Very convenient!

  16. @ Karen: We always do meze when we have friends over. Once it’s all made, it’s easier to serve and then people can just choose what they want.

    @ Bellini: It’s the social aspect of it as well as the food.

    @ Grace: Pica-pica is a great name for this type of eating. So apt! 🙂 Yes, we love the glass fridges then we can see what’s fresh. Meze is similar to Spain’s tapas but a lot of tapas is served hot whereas most meze dishes are cold.

  17. I always feel hungry when I come here. 😉
    Can you tell me why?

  18. I looove meze! Little bits and bites of variety … and company! Similar to the Spanish tapas, I’d rather have this than a full main course.

  19. @ Ping: It seems to be the common like. Everyone prefers meze to main meal, including us. 🙂

  20. It all looks so delicious! I really like your idea of trying several smaller dishes, rather than just one maincourse. Also good that you can see it before you order it – although I think I would end up eating more this way 🙂

  21. Meze is just a perfect lunch or dinner – bound to be something for everyone, it takes time and one doesn’t really eat too much.

  22. @ Laurel: It’s all delicious and a much nicer way to eat than one main meal. We always choose too many from the fridge though – we get greedy. 🙂

    @ Sophie: It depends on how many meze dishes you order and how much bread you eat with it. 🙂

  23. YUM! I love Turkish Meze!

  24. @ Cam: Us, too. The best way to eat.

  25. i miss my local Mangal in East London sooo much now!

  26. @ Theodora: Sorry to make you crave food. We’re just living off meze grazing at the moment in this hot weather. 🙂

  27. some of my most favorite food experiences have been in restaurants where you go into the kitchen and see what is cooking and point to what you want! i just added you to my sidebar! you have a wonderful blog!

  28. @[email protected]: Thanks for the lovely compliment and for adding us to your sidebar. We prefer to choose food like this rather than choosing from a menu.

  29. We’re just home after two weeks in Kayakoy. Meze is my favourite especially aubergine salad. I will check out the cookery book. I have a Turkish cook book but it doesn’t explain things very well. You are so lucky to live there.

    • Ahh, two weeks in Kayaköy must be absolute bliss, Anne. 🙂 Actually, the meze photos in this post are from Kaya. Yeah, summertime eating is definitely all about meze for us because we can just graze and aubergine always feels quite refreshing. 🙂

  30. I have just returned from a 3 week holiday in Turkey and loved the meze there but want to know how to make the bread they have with it the one that puffs up loads

    • Hi Jayne, Really glad you enjoyed Turkey and all the meze dishes. A lovely way to eat. A couple of people have asked us about the ouffy bread and we’ve done a couple of searches online – will have a go with it so see how easy/difficult it is and do a post sometime soon, hopefully. 🙂

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